Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada talks at a news conference
IN PHOTO: Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada talks at a news conference with Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key after bilateral talks in Auckland, November 14, 2014. Reuters/Stringer

Immediately after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sworn in to office, he told the press the public will not recognise Canada when I’m [sic] through with it. Indeed, the prime minister envisions a strong Canada with its resilient and dynamic economic and domestic policies.

Of late, the Bill C-51, introduced officially on January 30, spawned another controversy among its citizens whose rights vested by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other laws could allegedly be threatened. Bill C-51 passed the second reading on February 23, earning its ticket to be referred to the Parliament’s Standing Committee.

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

In the bill's executive summary, the Harper government argues Canada is not immune to threats of terrorism. And for that, the safety of everyone including its sovereignty necessitates a stronger security forces. The Anti-terrorism Act of 2015 or House Bill C-51 is composed of five parts, which seek to create the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and Secure Air Travel Act, and amend the Criminal Code, Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

While strengthening the national security is a noble intention, it cannot be denied certain consequences may prejudice existing rights. The Canadian Civil Liberties Associations, for example, criticises on its own website, the efficiency of the bill, saying it affords broad powers to CSIS and criminalise legitimate speech with CSIS being authorised to take down Canadian websites which may be construed to promote terrorism.

The bill defines terrorism as any “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” Terrorism, according to the bill, includes interference with critical infrastructure and capability of the Government of Canada in relation to, among others, economic or financial stability of Canada. At first reading, it may sound specific, but critics have noted that upon scrutiny, it begs several questions to its supposed objective. It casts doubt and harbours confusion.

Further, the Bill also specifies acts that constitute terrorism as “any writing, sign, visible representation or audio recording that advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.” The provision, nevertheless, characterises indistinctiveness especially in the light of modern information technology, which elevates freedom of expression on a digital platform. When found guilty, the convict could face an imprisonment of up to five years.

Is The Threat Real?

The post-World Trade Centre terrorism birthed stringent legislation, many of which curtail the freedom rights which cost several billions of lives in wars to win. The anxiety of who shall be the next target causes paranoia among the world leaders. Consequently, many see such kind of legislation unnecessary.

Then again, the existing laws serve as pillars to those vested rights. They have been enacted to insure protection such as the right to privacy, so that when a judicial question becomes ripe, the Supreme Court of Canada, as the final arbiter, shall see to it that the organic laws are upheld. It is elementary in statutory construction that the organic law of a State carries with it the supremacy, which compels all laws to bow down before it.

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